Primal: Scream, Therapy and Scene

INFORMING CONTEXTS – CONTEXTUAL RESEARCH

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Discussing my current practice with my tutor Paul Clements, about a month ago I discovered Doctor Arthur Janov’s “Primal Therapy”. Since, in a previous article, I analysed how important discovering his work has been for the creation of Lennon/Ono’s “Plastic Ono Band” albums and, subsequently, to  my project “I can hear you now”, I think it’s necessary to share a video which Janov himself explains what the therapy he created is about.

Dr. Arthur Janov, What is Primal Therapy, 2008, released on Dr. Janov’s Primal Center official YouTube channel. ©Dr. Janov’s Primal Center, Santa Monica, CA

In 2010, Joachim Hamou shot in Los Angeles a film named “The Primal Scene” linked to Janov’s Method. The full movie has been released in 2011 and, about his work, the director stated: “It’s hard to resume what the film is about, which is a good reason to see it… But this much I can tell you. There are several scenes with Arthur Janov, the man who invented Primal Therapy…” (Hamou, 2011).

In an extract, we can see an example of primal regression of a patient, managed by Dr. Janov in his Primal Center in Santa Monica, California. In my opinion, directly observing how the Primal Therapy works, allows viewers to understand its potential in individuals’ self-analysis process.

Joachim Hamou, The Primal Scene, Therapeutic Regression scene, 2011. Released on YouTube in 2013. ©Joachim Hamou

I think that images are often a far more powerful medium than verbal explanations, and this is why I think that anyone, even if not interested in this technique, should watch this video, in order to better understand the deep emotional impact it had on the portrayed person.

References:

Hamou Joachim, The Primal Scene, 2011, Los Angeles, CA. Full Movie available on Joachim Hamou Vimeo profile page https://vimeo.com/70777468

Janov Arthur Dr., The Primal Scream. Primal Therapy: The Cure for Neurosis, 1970, Dell, United States.

Janov Arthur Dr., What is the Primal Technique, 2008, Dr. Janov’s Primal Center, Santa Monica, CA.

Primal Therapy, official YouTube channel, managed by Dr. Janov’s Primal Center, Santa Monica, CA https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCQCJlMlP-EpENSM-S5ocS7g

Charities’ Campaigns: Physical or Learning disabilities “Vs” Mental Health problems

INFORMING CONTEXTS – ADVERTS ANALYSIS

As analysed during these weeks of course, Charities that work to support people with disabilities often use adverts to portray them as individuals with special needs, unable to be independent or to have a productive role in Society.

This is easily explained if we consider the research conducted by Miller, Jones and Ellis, who found out that the audience is more willing to donate money if their prejudices find confirmation in those ads, so they can feel sympathy for the portrayed people rather than empathy and that a sense of guilt is a powerful stimulus, too.

However, as they pointed out into their “Group differences in response to charity images of children with Down syndrome”, “One initially depressing finding showed that the general public would be more likely to donate on seeing the more traditional, `guilt-evoking’ poster. However, a closer analysis revealed that this group was actually the least likely of all the groups to donate money: those groups who were most likely to donate showed a slight preference in favour of the less stereotyped poster. Thus it is concluded that charities who are looking for donations do not need to rely on feelings of pity and guilt; and in fact, for reasons of both fund-raising and consciousness-raising, would do better to use images which are positive and non-stigmatising” (Miller, Jones, Ellis, 1993).

If we analyse the two posters used for this Study, one from Mencap and the other created by the Down Syndrome Association

Mencap

Miller, Jones and Ellis , the two charity posters used in the study, ‘Kevin’ from Mencap and ‘David’ from the Down Syndrome Association, 1993. ©1996-2017 Down Syndrome Education International

we can easily observe the differences between the visual languages used and the texts reinforcing their message: one shows children affected by Down Syndrome as victims with no future, and only a small caption stigmatizes, then, this way to think at disability, while the second has less negative connotations, showing a different approach to this condition rather than “exhibit” a helpless child.

Here, we could see different kinds of messages related to the same topic, but are there differences in the use of language and images when we have to confront Charities’ adverts related to physical disabilities and psychological problems or disorders?

Since the “victimization” of disabled people in ads has been extensively discussed in the last two decades, I would like to consider and compare those ones that do not try to instill in the audience’s minds the idea that people with disabilities are hopeless and must be saved thanks to our supposed “superiority”.

A humorous attempt to convey a different message has been made by George & Dragon, the Agency that created the Campaign “H.I.D.E., End the Awkward for Scope in 2016.

Jim Gilchrist, Scope’s 2016 TV advert for End the Awkward campaign, 2016. ©Scope, UK

In this video, we can’t see any stigmatisation of the disability rather than the derision of the sense of embarrassment that often people demonstrate when they have to deal with the diversity. The message is clear: don’t hide yourself, don’t be afraid of doing or saying something wrong, just behave normally, since you are meeting a person like another. In fact, when the characters finally find out this matter of fact, they feel relieved and they start introducing themselves.

The roles, here, are inverted: what is commonly considered as different shows that the not normal thing is the reaction of those non-disabled people who can’t properly face a situation.

But what about those adverts related to psychological conditions, such as anxiety disorder, depression or social phobia? Can the message be conveyed in the same way? Probably not, but it doesn’t mean that we can’t find a positive attitude in those adverts related to this topic, too.

Mind, Mental Health: In our words, 2014. ©Mind, UK

In this video, 13 people talk about what is like to live with different types of mental health problems, what the worse things are, how they face their situation and what helped them.

Again, here we don’t see victims: we can simply observe common people speaking about their problems, not to obtain viewers’ sympathy, rather than to make us deeper empathise with them, to make us understand how they finally found out they were not alone, just like anyone of the audience who might be experiencing the same situation. Same as for physical disabilities, it’s something they (WE, I have to include myself) have to cope with and they must find out how to productively proceed with their existences not avoiding their condition or hiding, but facing it, supporting each other and telling their stories.

They don’t mask their pain but, at the same time, they show the audience how they became “fighters” every single day and the firm and calm language, their positivity and constructive attitude pervade our souls while we listen to them and look at their faces.

They hold the situation, they put themselves into play in order to support  others and, becoming Mind’s campaigners, they demonstrated everyone that they are not victims: they are helpers.

Confronting the two adverts, we see that the language used is completely different, but we can also see that a more positive attitude in discussing psychological disorders and learning or physical disabilities is possible and that the power of the message is not affected by it, but reinforced.

 

References:

Jardine Alexandra, End the Awkward, HIDE, on Creativity Online, September 2016 http://creativity-online.com/work/scope-hide/49104

Miller BY, Jones RSP, Ellis NC. Group differences in response to charity images of children with Down syndrome. Down Syndrome Research and Practice. 1993;1(3);118-122.

Miller BY, Jones RSP, Ellis NC. Group differences in response to charity images of children with Down syndrome. Abstract of the Study published by Down Syndrome Educational Online website in 2017. © 1996-2017 Down Syndrome Education International. https://www.down-syndrome.org/reports/22/?page=1

Mind, Official website http://www.mind.org.uk/

Mind, Official YouTube channel https://www.youtube.com/user/MindWebteam

Scope, About the disability, Official website https://www.scope.org.uk/end-the-awkward

Confronting Boulevards

INFORMING CONTEXTS – VISUAL CONFRONTATION

Katy Grannan is an American contemporary photographer who prefer to create portraits of strangers.

One of her most famous works is Boulevard, a collection of portraits of anonymous people she met in the streets of Los Angeles and San Francisco. With this project, she wanted to create empathy between subjects and viewers. Her portraits are “over-detailed” and show sitters just like they are, with no artificials and no post-production. She created these street portraits after she moved to California in 2006 and she first exhibited this series at Fraenkel Gallery and Salon 94, New York, in 2011.

Katy Grannan | Boulevard, Have a Nice book, released on 1st November 2016. ©Katy Grannan

With the same title, but very different in its contents, Adam Barthos’ Boulevard portrays cityscapes of Paris and Los Angeles. Again, we find a work created between two cities, but in Barthos’ work, we don’t find a focus on individuals, but on urban spaces.

We can’t make a proper distinction between photographs taken in Paris or Los Angeles, since these images are not simply postcards, but they portray common places, like backyards, residential buildings and empty streets. His work is an experiment with colour film Photography and he created it between 1970s and 1980s.

Adam Bartos / Boulevard, Have a Nice book, released on 26th October 2016. ©Adam Bartos

What we see, here, are two different approaches to Boulevards and what they mean for these two contemporary photographers. I think that, like this confrontation clearly demonstrates, each photographer gives his/her own interpretation to different topics and that his/her interiority can be clearly expressed by a very personal style.

 

References:

Barthos Adam, Boulevards, https://steidl.de/Books/Boulevard-0118213435.html

Barthos Adam, Boulevards, 1. Edition 11/2005, Steidl Books, Göttingen.

Grannan Katy, Boulevard, Fraenkel Gallery website https://fraenkelgallery.com/artists/katy-grannan

Grannan Katy, Boulevard, 2011, Fraenkel Gallery, Slp Edition, San Francisco.

Visual inspiration: Colin Gray

INFORMING CONTEXTS – VISUAL RESEARCH

Searching online, I found Colin Gray’s work “In sickness and in Health”.

Colin Gray, In sickness and in Health, 2000/2004, Have a nice book on Youtube, uploaded in October 2016. ©Colin Gray

In this book, the photographer portrayed the four years after his mother had a stroke. Until her death.

The topic is sad and moving, but the way in which he portrayed his parents is so delicate that shows his love for them and the deep respect he had in photographing these emotionally deep moments.

He didn’t focus on his mother’s pain, even if it’s clearly depicted in his images, but he focus on his parent’s relationship, almost celebrating it, and on his father’s resilience, as said in his interview for The Telegraph.

He was suffering in first person for his mother’s sufferance and, then, for his loss, so he did this work in order to face this emotional situation with the “instrument” he knows best: Photography.

He said, in his interview, “When I first started taking the pictures I was just making sense of what was happening, I didn’t intend them to be shown, and for a year or two after my mum died I didn’t do anything with them. It was a slow process of getting over her death, but then I started thinking perhaps I should use them for something” (Gray, 2017).

Gray started portray his parents when he was a child, and he went on photographing them during their whole life, capturing moments of love frozen in time and this book, I guess, was the last and the ultimate homage he could offer them. His father wasn’t concerned by the idea that his son was creating an exhibition out of those images, since he was used to be photographed by him, and Gray dedicated his book to his mother, hoping she would have approved his work. His exhibitions had a good response too, but how a broader audience would consider this topic? How would they face those images? I think the context, here, is important, since he created a book and many exhibitions, but, as I could notice looking for them online, they are not related to major social media, apart from Youtube, Vimeo and some blogs, for instance.

I think this project might be an important reference for my practice, since my interest is using photography as a tool for psychological support and a way to capture those painful feeling people experience in order to send them away, leaving behind just memories and a sense of emotional emptying sitters could start from.

Said that, I think these images are successful, due to the fact that they are so delicate that they almost seem mental images of a narrated story, like a melancholic tale. And this is the point, from all materials I could read about it, that seems to be Gray’s aim.

He achieved this by the use of frame, helping viewers focusing on specific details or colours and lights, which gave a sense of delicacy to all images: they are sad and sometimes rough, but he managed this feeling that observers might experience in a brilliant way, I think. We don’t need texts as “anchorage”, to quote Roland Barthes, even if these images are “prone to multiple meanings and interpretations” (Barthes, 1964), the sense is clear and even the photographer’s approach, in my opinion. They are a story, a tale, per se. Shadows, locations, visual elements, details, symbols: they all create a mental and emotional path the viewers can easily follow.

Sischy, talking about Salgado’s work, stated that “His subjects are too much in the service of illustrating his various themes and notions to be allowed either to stand forth and as individuals and represent millions. He’s a symbolist rather than a portraitist, the people in his pictures remain strangers” (Sischy, 1991). Here we see the exact opposite situation. Personally, proceeding from image to image, I developed a sort of affection for this old couple and I empathised with them and what they were living, looking at these photographs is just like being there and observing the scene while it was happening.

Just like the author himself said, “Looking at myself in the mirror I see a reflection of my father’s face. I see the story of my own future. This is a curious and rather frightening experience” (Gray, 2017): this is something we often experience looking at ourselves and at our parents, and I think that providing feelings and emotions to the audience is a goal that the Gray definitely achieved.

 

References:

Barthes Roland, The rhetoric of image, essay, 1964, Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Gray Colin, In sickness and in Health, 2000/2004, Have a nice book on Youtube, uploaded in October 2016.

Gray Colin, Postcards from the Edge: Colin Gray’s family photographs, interview for The Telegraph, UK, March 2017, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/photography/8836839/Postcards-from-the-edge-Colin-Grays-family-photographs.html

Sischy Ingrid, Photographer, Good intentions, abstract, 1991, The New Yorker, p. 93.

Photography and psychological conditions: inclusive Vs non-inclusive approach

INFORMING CONTEXTS – VISUAL RESEARCH

Many artists portrayed psychological conditions and human behaviours, both from an inclusive and a non-inclusive perspective.

Sarah Hobbs, with her “Small problems in living” is a clear example of the second approach to this topic. She decided to investigate it creating installations, that did not include any human participation, in her friends’ apartments in order to create photographic metaphors for those conditions and compulsions that affect all individuals, somehow.

Sarah Hobbs, Small Problems in living, 2003-2013, selection of images from her series. ©Sarah Hobbs.

Recreating symbolic representations of her subjects, she attempted to focus on the visual impact, but her style makes me analyse her work as created by someone not really affected by anyone of those “small problems”, because even if those images are visually interesting, I can’t see an actual emotional participation of the artist.

I think the title wanted to be a humorous attempt to approach the topic, but since I personally know how someone feels when one of those conditions occurs, I find hard to believe that the impact they might have on an individual’s life couldn’t have been analysed or represented more in depth.

A completely opposite approach to this subject is Edward Honaker’s “Depression” project. In this case the author is completely immersed in his own project, representing exclusively himself with his art. His perspective is absolutely personal and the psychological condition that affects him is the focal point in his research.

Edward Honaker, Depression, 2013-2015, selection of images from his series. ©Edward Honaker.

In his series, images are symbolic too, but being the main subject of each image, the final result is opposite to Hobbs’ one. In his images we don’t see colours, we see visual strategies useful to break taboos with sensitivity and to represent all those aspects of a puzzled, blurred or even avoided personality.

Personally speaking, both approaches can be valid, even if I tend to an inclusive one in my practice and as part of the audience, but in both cases the focus is so personal that I find it hard to feel included as an observer. Even if the two projects are visually appealing, while observing the first series I feel a bit disoriented and not fully respected as part of the subject matter and in the second case the symbolism is so over descriptive and detailed that even if I can empathise more with what I am observing, I can’t fully recognise someone but its author.

 

Visual References:

Hobbs Sarah, Small Problems in living, 2003-2013 http://sarahhobbs.net/section/225956-Small-Problems-In-Living.html

Honaker Edward, Depression, 2013-2015 http://www.edwardhonaker.com/booktwo/

Ikea vs Rabbits

INFORMING CONTEXTS – CONTEXTUAL RESEARCH

Observing Miriam Bäckström’s Ikea project while analysing “Constructed Realities”, I immediately related it to David Lynch’s Rabbits series.

During the 1990s, the Swedish photographer created what have been defined ‘portraits in absentia’, using deserted interiors photographed at the IKEA Museum in Stockholm, relating them to her other project “In Absentia” in which she portrayed the homes of recently deceased people in her Country.

backstrom ikea1

Miriam Bäckström, Exhibition at Galerie Nordenhake, Stockholm, May 10th – June 19th, 2003. ©Galerie Nordenhake.

As Steph Cosgrove pointed out while analysing her work, “Although Bäckström rather objectively photographs Ikea showrooms, spaces that are deliberately constructed to encourage us to purchase, she is still asking us to consider their credibility as photographs. Her work questions the plausibility of these strange spaces as potentially domestic living spaces, and yet again there is this nagging sense of something being not quite right. They’re almost like empty stage sets. There’s a balance here between the documentary and the fictional, but with a sense of narrative all the same” (Cosgrove, 2017).

Bäckström’s images are not about reality itself, what they want to provide is an equivalent representation to observers, meaning the opposite. By photographing real constructions insert in a showroom-context, she emphasizes not what we can immediately observe, but what is not there, what is excluded from the image itself.

The absence of life forms make her interiors functioning like mirrors that reflect far more than what is actually depicted into her images: what we see is our personality while interpreting the photographs we look at and we experience a sort of consciousness state while considering the difference between the scene and our interior world.

Rabbits is a series of short horror comedy films, written and directed in 2002 by the American Director David Lynch and broadcasted online, that portrays three humanoid rabbits in a single box set representing the living room of a house. Their conversations are incoherent and they are often interrupted by a laugh track while, in contrast, they remain serious: they engage conversations apparently with a lack of meaning in relation to what preceded them, creating and enhancing a sense of absurd to the point of being humorous and confusing at the same time.

“Rabbits” on Youtube, David Lynch, 2002. ©David Lynch, Indipendent production.

In some episodes, strange events take place, including the appearance of a burning hole in the wall a mysterious phone call and a scene in which someone is knocking at their door and when they open it the audience can only hear a loud scream. At the end one of the character ask herself: “I wonder who I will be.”, almost mirroring that existential question that each viewer posed himself, at least, once in his life.

Baeckstroem__IKEA__1999

“IKEA Throughout the Ages”’, Älmhult, Sweden, 1999. Courtesy Miriam Bäckström and Nils Stærk, Copenhagen. ©VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2016.

dlynch_e

“Rabbits”, film scene, David Lynch, 2002. ©David Lynch, Indipendent production.

What is interesting in confronting these two diverse series, is finding in both common elements even if they use different visual media and they are create with different aims.

The spaces we observe are almost “frozen” in time and the sense of absence and disconnection to the actual is evident, even if what is portrayed is related to everyday life. In both cases, again, the portrayed interiors have been reused for other cinema-related works.

What we perceive is a sense if incomplete and surreal, because Bäckström and Lynch use those domestic spaces to tell a story stimulating viewers’ imagination and challenging their understanding. Images works as mirrors for viewers, who can interpret them and see themselves while looking at the scene. Both authors, then, question the way interior spaces are constructed and what they say, or don’t say, about the individuals who occupy, or could occupy, them.

But “IKEA” and “Rabbits” series have far more in common, because these two projects have been used as starting point for researches in contexts disconnected from the original ones.

Rabbits has been used as a stimulus for a psychological experiment about the effects of acetaminophen on existential crisis. The research, that actually used Lynch’s series to analyse its effects on participants, is has been documented in a paper entitled “The Common Pain of Surrealism and Death” suggested that acetaminophen acted to suppress the effects of surrealism.

At the same time, the images from Bäckström’s Apartments series became part of the archive of a Swedish film production company to serve as reference material for the construction of film sets.

We can see, then, how these two distinct series are interconnected at different levels and how they can serve as starting point for further visual research.

 

References:

Bäckström Miriam, Galerie Nordenhake http://www.nordenhake.com/php/exhibition.php?id=31&year=2003

Cosgrove Steph, Constructed Realities, Module 2, Week-3 Video Presentation, 2017, Falmouth University, Falmouth.

Lynch David, Rabbits, 2002 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GxKPBLjHAEA

Lynch David, Lynchnet, The David Lynch resource, http://www.lynchnet.com/index2.

Randles Daniel, J. Heine Steven, Santos Nathan, The Common Pain of Surrealism and Death, 2013,University of British Columbia http://www2.psych.ubc.ca/~heine/docs/2013%20Acetaminophen%20and%20David%20Lynch.pdf